‘Such blatant racism can never be tolerated.’

Aboriginal flag painted on bricks

Indigenous doctors warn that racism will cost lives, after a man was denied coronavirus testing and told it was only for “real Aborigines”

The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association has issued a statement in which it says it was “very disturbed” to hear that in a NSW regional hospital, a man who identified as an Aboriginal person was denied testing because priority treatment would only be offered to “real Aborigines”.

AIDA also said that it had also heard a comment made in a Western Australian hospital that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients “only get it because they don’t wash their hands”.

“Such blatant racism can never be tolerated – least of all at this crucial time,” AIDA said.

It points out that the Commonwealth’s Australian Health Sector Emergency Response Plan for Novel Coronavirus clearly acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are a vulnerable, at-risk group for the novel coronavirus.

It also calls for provision of “care in an equitable manner, recognising special needs, cultural values and religious beliefs of different members of the community. This is especially important when providing health services to vulnerable individuals, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people who are culturally and linguistically diverse”.

AIDA said it is constantly – particularly during the pandemic – calling for culturally safe care for its people.

“Cultural safety addresses racism in our health system,” it said. “Ultimately it is about ethical practice.

“AIDA fully appreciates that the Australian medical workforce is facing exceptional challenges right now.

“However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ lives, health and wellbeing cannot be put at risk because of underlying racism and prejudice.”

AIDA said that it is very pleased that steps have been taken to protect remote communities throughout Australia from the virus.

“However, it is vital that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the cities and regions receive the medical attention that all Australians are entitled to.

“AIDA urges all medical and healthcare professionals, medical colleges and health and medical and healthcare organisations—indeed all health workers—to commit to ethical and equitable testing and treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients during this critical time.”

National Boards and AHPRA responded by saying that racism from registered healthcare professionals would not be tolerated, particularly given the vulnerability of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People to the virus.

These Australians continue to experience prejudice and bias when seeking necessarily healthcare, contributing to health inequality, it said.

“We encourage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples who have experienced culturally unsafe incidents of care from a registered health practitioner to submit a notification or complaint to Ahpra,” said AHPRA CEO Martin Fletcher.

“We will not tolerate racism particularly given the impact it has on community members to accessing critical healthcare at this time.”

Karl Briscoe, co-Chair of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group said, “These cases are very disappointing to hear as it fundamentally opposes our commitment to achieving culturally safe healthcare. We as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, have a right to equitable and culturally safe healthcare treatment from all health professionals.”

National Boards and Ahpra remind all registered health practitioners that they are required to comply with their profession’s Code of Conduct which condemns discrimination and racism in practice.

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